The U.S. Supreme Court handed gun control advocates a major victory today by refusing to hear a suit brought by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association against the City of New York.
Gun rights proponents had hoped the court would use the case to strengthen Second Amendment rights after ten years of refusing to take up a gun-related case. The Court hasn’t heard a gun case since its landmark Heller and McDonald decisions, and since then lower courts have consistently ignored the robust protections those decisions offered.
In an unsigned opinion, the court ruled that the New York case is now moot because New York City repealed the handgun law in question. The city had previously prohibited residents from transporting a handgun outside of city limits but promptly voided the law after SCOTUS decided to hear the case.
“The State of New York amended its firearm licensing statute, and the City amended the rule so that petitioners may now transport firearms to a second home or shooting range outside of the city, which is the precise relief that petitioners requested in the prayer for relief in their complaint,” the court ruled. “Petitioners’ claim for declaratory and injunctive relief with respect to the City’s old rule is therefore moot.”
Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas dissented.
The news isn’t all bad, however. In his concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh opened the door for the court to hear other Second Amendment cases in the near future. While he agreed with the majority’s opinion about this case’s mootness, he shared Justice Alito’s concern that lower courts are ignoring the Heller decision.
“The Court should address that issue soon, perhaps in one of the several Second Amendment cases with petitions for certiorari now pending before the Court,” he said.
The Second Amendment Foundation has filed four gun-related cases with the Supreme Court, and they sounded an optimistic note in a press release about the New York case.
“The Second Amendment Foundation currently has four cases pending before the Supreme Court that could serve that purpose,” SAF Founder Alan Gottlieb said, referring to Justice Kavanaugh’s opinion. “And we hope that one or all of these cases gets heard and gives notice to lower courts that they can no longer thumb their noses at the prior rulings that protect Second Amendment rights.”
The four SAF cases already submitted to the high court are Rodriguez v. City of San Jose; Pena v. Cid, Culp v. Madigan and Mance v. Barr. The Mance case involves SAF’s sister organization, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms as a plaintiff.
In his dissent, Justice Alito argued that while the restrictive New York law had been repealed, the controversy is still “live” and the Court has a duty to intervene.
A case becomes moot “only when it is impossible for a court to grant any effectual relief whatever to the prevailing party. As long as the parties have a concrete interest, however small, in the outcome of the litigation, the case is not moot,” Alito said, quoting from a previous case.
“By incorrectly dismissing this case as moot, the Court permits our docket to be manipulated in a way that should not be countenanced,” he concluded.